Friday, November 19, 2010

Grey's Philosophy...

Yesterday for UNESCO World Philosophy Day I went along to a lecture at the University of Queensland, given by the philosopher William Grey, entitled "What does it mean to be a Philosopher?" I enjoyed the lecture and I wanted to share it with you.

Grey started off with an overview of the history of philosophy and name checked the philosophers from the Ionian Enlightenment: Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Herclitus and Anazagoras, with some information on each. As well as the Eleatic Metaphysics: Parmenides and Zeno and the Golden Age of Classical Antiquity; the philosophers most would be aware of: Scorates, Plato and Aristotle and so on through the Renaissance and nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

He also spoke about "why philosophy" and gave a wonderful list of whys, I only manged to write down a couple. But he argued that even if our needs were all met (for everyone, everywhere) we would still need to examine what sort of society we wanted and what sort of lives we wanted to live. Philosophy frees the mind from prejudice and promotes skepticism about dogmatism. He provided wonderful quotes by various philosophers including; "Philosophy is an activity that uses reasoning and rigorous argument to promote human flourishing." - Epicurus.

Grey went on to talk about the idea that one of the roles of philosophy is to address foundational value assumptions and that we need to do this with the environment. We are living unsustainably and he argued that the future isn't a predetermined destination to which we travel, the future is creation, not discovery. In other words, we can still make a difference. He spoke about ethical eating, population levels, the use of fossil fuels and reevaluating the social models we live within. He used this wonderful quote about climate change from a scientist, "The climate is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks."

But Grey also talked about existence. Why do human exist is a fundamental question in philosophy; Grey says, they exist for the same reason as whales and lions. Does life have meaning? Another key question, Grey says, life is devoid of meaning, except that which we make ourselves. So life has no meaning? Yes, life has not meaning, but it does not mean an individual life has no meaning. Sounds pessimistic? Well, we live in an age of epistemological privilege. We ought not be pessimistic or optimistic, Grey says, rather we should be utilise rational skepticism.

One of the aims of the UNESCO Wold Philosophy Day is to inspire public discussion, I believe that William Grey's lecture certainly did that. The question time at the end was lively and continued outside with wine and cheese. What I got from the day was a feeling that we all need to live a little more philosophically, in this capitalist consumerist society in which we dwell, and reconsider the very things we hold as "normal" that are in fact very detrimental to ourselves, our environment, and our world.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful lecture!

    These words caught my attention: "Philosophy frees the mind from prejudice and promotes skepticism about dogmatism."

    One of the best kept secrets in academic philospohy is that this is only a best case scenario. Good philosophy has this salutary effect. Not so for bad philosophy, which is very easy to do; in fact, much easier to do than good philosophy, lacking established methods, and all. I'm reminded of the Sokal affair, a brilliant expose on the dangers of a particular style or brand of philosophizing that promotes dogmatism.

    Enjoyed your post!

    Cheers,
    Kevin

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